MIKLOS THOMAS’ son Anthony is still asking for daddy. Unknown to the five-year-old, Thomas was crushed to death by a machine at his job site in Chaguanas on Tuesday. As is standard, authorities have said they are investigating. Yet the repeated failure of the State to hold anyone to account for worksite deaths suggests all of it is likely to end up nowhere. It’s time to take a hard look at where we are in terms of the State’s Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) framework.
Many companies, especially those in the heavy industrial sector, have made strides when it comes to worker safety. For instance, Point Lisas Nitrogen Ltd recently celebrated the safety milestone of one million man-hours without a loss-time incident. And the regularity with which workers and trade unionists cite the right to stay away from work under the OSH legislation suggests a culture of worksite safety is alive and well. Or is it?
The most recent parliamentary review suggests not. In June, the Joint Select Committee on Statutory Authorities was presented with a litany of problems that has rendered the OSH effectively useless, including a crippling staff shortage.
“Financial constraints have stymied the OSH Agency’s ability to increase its staff,” a summary of the hearing states. The funding needed to fill positions was $48 million, when that year’s entire allocation was less than half that amount. Of 2,497 complaints from 2016 to 2018, only 200 were prosecuted. Even the much-cited right to stay away from work is being abused. It’s only supposed to be invoked after internal investigation; a nuance rarely acknowledged in the heat of the industrial relations climate.
The Ministry of Labour assures it’s reviewing the governing legislation. That review is taking too long given the number of things that need to be improved. The OSH Agency has asked for increased fines, clarification of governing structures, autonomy, a power to directly prosecute negligent entities, tighter time frames for reporting accidents, the application of standards to workers in residential areas, and greater care regarding schools.
Because many worksite accidents go unreported, it’s hard to say if accidents have increased or decreased since the law came into effect in 2006. Yet, one accident is bad enough. And needless deaths keep happening.
Last April, Guyanese national Doodnauth Persaud Nateram, 44, was crushed to death at Trinidad Cement Ltd in Claxton Bay. His body was removed from under a crane. Authorities said they were investigating.
In November, 57-year-old maxi-taxi driver Wendy Wescott died at City Gate in Port of Spain. She was crushed by a reversing maxi-taxi as she was making her way from the bathroom. Authorities said they were investigating.
To date it’s not clear if anyone has been held to account for either incident. We hope the same will not be the case in relation to Thomas’s death.